Are We Robots or Are We Dancers?

Princeton’s Dance Department and Robotics Program might seem like polar opposites to the average student: The former attracts the most creative and artistically inclined of the student body while the latter is deeply math-science oriented. Over the past three weeks, however, I have seen one student challenge these assumptions by bridging the arts-science divide.

Dana Fesjian ’17 is an undergraduate in the Electrical Engineering (ELE) Department, who is participating in a Lewis Center for the Arts initiative called Performance Lab. Known informally as P-Lab, this initiative allows dancers to explore independent work that connects dance with a different field. The culmination of this exploration is a performance in early March where the participants showcase their choreography and explain their independent work. Dana—whom I dance with in Princeton University Ballet—is using sound-sensitive robots to create dance movements and patterns that will eventually be performed by humans. She asked me to be one of the dancers in her project and I happily agreed to do so.

Dana’s robots reacted to sound signals from a jazz song to map out the pattern above. In her P-Lab piece, the dancers will trace this exact pattern and five other ones created using different songs.

Throughout our rehearsals over the past three weeks, I have had the chance to learn more about Dana’s independent work, and decided to cover her experience for my post this week.

Continue reading Are We Robots or Are We Dancers?

Challenging the “Proper” Way to Write a Research Essay

Pinpoint a research question. Develop a clear thesis. Support that thesis with foolproof evidence. Discredit any rebuttals.

This is how many of us approach research papers — because ever since elementary school, teachers have told us to pick an argument and stand by it. I have completed assignment after assignment using this strategy, but recently I had the opportunity to break out of the single-argument box and experience a new writing technique.

This is a picture I took from atop the Eiffel Tower while on vacation in France. Little did I know that what an important role French culture and ideas would play in expanding my approach to research.

For my French class last semester, I had to write a final paper about a current event of my choosing in the style of a typical French essay. My professor explained that in France, academic writing commonly diverges from the structure I described above. Students are encouraged to report on current events by investigating all of the different perspectives, components, and opinions at hand. Instead of crafting a specific argument to articulate and support, students offer thorough descriptions of multiple perspectives, the reasoning behind them, and their sources. As the paper develops, the writer must depict the similarities and differences of each perspective and describe how they interact to affect each other and to shape the greater context.

Continue reading Challenging the “Proper” Way to Write a Research Essay

Shopping Courses in Sophomore Spring: A Research Project for your Concentration

For Princeton sophomores, the start of second semester can seem like a last-minute mad dash to fulfill prerequisites, choose concentrations and solidify academic paths. Especially for sophomores who have not yet decided on a major, this period can be considerably stressful and overwhelming. While I am not quite in this boat—I have already decided to concentrate in the Woodrow Wilson School—I am facing a similar struggle as I try to settle on a specific track. (For those of you unfamiliar with the track system, Wilson School majors are required to choose a specific field of study under the overarching subject of public and international affairs.)

For sophomores, spring semester presents a crossroad in our academic careers. Design your schedule now to help you know which path to follow.

With the concentration decision deadline rapidly approaching, I’ve decided to treat shopping period as the ultimate academic research experience. Choosing your major really is a lot like tackling a research project. Potential research questions include what are your academic passions? In which areas do you excel? In what ways do you want to be challenged? With whom do you wish to work?

Continue reading Shopping Courses in Sophomore Spring: A Research Project for your Concentration

A Perspective on CBLI: Impactful Research Opportunities Beyond the Classroom

With Dean’s Date barely behind us and thoughts of grades consuming every waking moment, it is easy to forget the real-world value of our courses. But, at the same time, it is not hard to find research opportunities that transcend the classroom and have clear consequences beyond your GPA.

Last semester, my roommate Morgan, a sophomore concentrating in Anthropology and pursuing a Global Health Certificate, participated in such a research opportunity through the Community-Based Learning Initiative (CBLI). I decided to interview Morgan for my PCUR post this week so that she can share her experience and inform other students about impactful research opportunities on and off campus.

20130328_FRS_UrbanEducation_DJA_021 (1)
Students taking part in a CBLI project on education reform visit a local school to observe classes and hear from teachers and administrators.


Continue reading A Perspective on CBLI: Impactful Research Opportunities Beyond the Classroom

Quick and Dirty Blueprinting: Last Minute Preparation for Final Exams and Research Papers

As final exams and paper deadlines approach, I find myself constantly questioning if I am spending my time efficiently. During exam periods, I often wonder how much time I should spend catching up on readings that I skimmed throughout the semester. It’s hard to finish every reading on time when professors assign hundreds of pages per week — and it’s almost impossible to catch up over reading period. Right now, this issue is particularly salient in my sociology class, which requires a 5-page-essay as a take-home exam. How can I review relevant material effectively and efficiently when I also have three other courses to focus on?

Here I am stressing about my take-home exam while my twin sister–who took finals before break–watches Netflix. It’s not at all fair, but at least I have my Quick and Dirty Blueprinting Guide to help me!

Continue reading Quick and Dirty Blueprinting: Last Minute Preparation for Final Exams and Research Papers

Seeking Originality — in Writing Sem and Beyond

Be original.

Professors never fail to offer this piece of advice. As R3 deadlines approach, Writing Seminar professors are undoubtedly pushing students to shoot for originality in their writing. And who can blame them? No one wants to read a worn-out argument or encounter unsurprising research findings. But originality is not only your professor’s concern.

Throughout my research experiences, I have infallibly found that I benefit the most from original projects. In my writing seminar, The Politics of Intimacy, a creative purpose continuously drove my work. I began my research with the intention of writing about depictions of sexuality in films and their influence on movie ratings and reviews. I intended to use the film Blue Valentine (2010) as my primary evidence because extensive pop-culture articles and scholarly discussion have addressed the implications of its rating. The Motion Picture Association of America rated Blue Valentine NC-17 (their harshest rating) because they deemed certain sexual acts inappropriate to watch. This rating prompted significant controversy and feminist analyses of the MPAA’s policy that I found to be incredibly intriguing.

In a sea of Princeton students doing exceptional research, how can you push yourself to stand out from the crowd?

Continue reading Seeking Originality — in Writing Sem and Beyond

A Fall Break to Remember: Site-Specific Research in Detroit’s Artist Community

On the last Friday before fall break, as each of my friends packed up their belongings and boarded New Jersey Transit to head home for the week, I found myself preparing for an entirely different experience. One of the courses I am taking, a seminar called The Arts of Urban Transition, took a five-day-long field trip to Detroit over break as part of an interdisciplinary urban studies program at Princeton. This program, entitled the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism & the Humanities, is a three-year project that allows students to examine these areas of study through project-based interdisciplinary courses. My class focuses on the roles of art and artists in urban environments undergoing change. Detroit has been a major focal point in the curriculum, which is why I found myself boarding a plane headed to the Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

One of the sites our class visited was a metalworking studio run by a German African American artist out of his own home. The glorious bus pictured here was our primary means of transportation while in Detroit.

Continue reading A Fall Break to Remember: Site-Specific Research in Detroit’s Artist Community

The Project That Made Me a Researcher: Hands-On Journalism and a World-Renowned Cathedral

Over the course of the semester, PCURs will explain how they found their place in research. We present these to you as a series called The Project That Made Me a Researcher. As any undergraduate knows, the transition from ‘doing a research project’ to thinking of yourself as a researcher is an exciting and highly individualized phenomenon. Here, Emma shares her story.


Every researcher has a moment when they realize that their scholarly voice and independent discoveries matter outside of the classroom. For me, this moment came when I took a year-long journalism course as a sophomore in high school. My high school self-identifies as progressive and implements a unique pedagogic approach that emphasizes learning by doing. The journalism course closely fit that theme; instead of reading sample pieces and discussing what defines good journalism, we immediately jumped into the process of writing articles.

The Fifth Avenue Entrance of St. Patrick’s Cathedral where I chose to conduct my research.

My first two articles—each about one page long—were relatively uncomplicated. I wrote about topics that I found interesting, but didn’t push myself to see my subjects in a new or distinct way. My mom was the only person I interviewed throughout the entire research process. The third assignment, however, called for much more involved and independent research. Our teacher instructed each of us to pick a topic of our choice and spend the entire second semester researching and writing about it. He explained that all of this work would culminate in a twenty-page New York Magazine-esque article due at the end of the year. Throughout the semester, we would only meet for a fraction of our class periods and the other time would be set-aside for us to conduct individual research off-campus.

Continue reading The Project That Made Me a Researcher: Hands-On Journalism and a World-Renowned Cathedral

Syllabi, Charts and Research Plans: Your Best Friends for Effective Information Management

Have you ever looked at a class syllabus for the first time and been absolutely shocked by the sheer volume of information you are expected to process? This is exactly how I felt when I first saw the syllabus for an urban studies seminar I’m currently taking. The class curriculum is stacked with dense articles, complex lectures and hundred-page textbook readings. How could I possibly manage, retain and use all of that material?

It turns out that that immensely overwhelming syllabus can actually be my best tool for successfully managing my workload.

This is my friend Morgan feeling very overwhelmed by all the material in her textbook, articles and lecture notes. We’ve all been there.

Recently, I attended a McGraw Workshop entitled Efficient Learning Strategies: Managing Large Amounts of Information. This hour-long session focused on exactly what worried me when I looked at my seminar syllabus: how to effectively approach classes that throw vast amounts of information at you. Nic Voge, the Associate Director of the Undergraduate Learning Program, led the workshop and helped the attendees work through common concerns students have about information management. These included being able to discern important information, make connections, summarize material and prepare for assessments—each of which is particularly pertinent for research-based classes and projects. Continue reading Syllabi, Charts and Research Plans: Your Best Friends for Effective Information Management

Uncovering Research Opportunities with an Impact Beyond the Classroom

As Princeton students, we all know that our classes offer many amazing opportunities for personal advancement, but we often do not recognize how certain classes can grant us opportunities to contribute to a greater community as well. I was fortunate enough to take such a class as early as my first semester at Princeton, when I enrolled in a Freshman Seminar entitled Philanthropy: Can we Save the World Through Generosity? The topic of this course—the work of foundations and nonprofits—was fascinating, and the method of learning was truly unique. In hopes of instilling a passion for philanthropy amongst Princeton students, a generous alumnus gave a grant of $50,000 to our class. He charged us with the responsibility of donating the grant to non-profits of our choice and learning about philanthropy through that process.

Continue reading Uncovering Research Opportunities with an Impact Beyond the Classroom